It’s hard to build a sustainable contender in the OHL, but we’ve seen it done before.
The London Knights have maintained that status for years thanks to shrewd asset management and drafting, often going against the grain to take a chance on talented prospects that may have slipped under the radar.
There’s no reason to expect a down year for the Knights, but as the OHL season approaches, the Owen Sound Attack and Mississauga Steelheads appear to be the teams to beat in the Western and Eastern Conferences respectively.
Both teams are losing some key players, but are still expected to bring most of their cores back after deep runs through the playoffs last year.
We think the rest of the league will shape up as follows.
Owen Sound Attack: Losing Michael McNiven and Petrus Palmu will hurt, but they should have a strong group returning, headlined by 2017 NHL draftees Nick Suzuki, Jonah Gadjovich and Markus Phillips. Trade acquisition Zack Bowman gives them a serviceable veteran goalie to work with.
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds: LA Kings prospect Matthew Villalta is coming off a great rookie season and could take off with more responsibility in goal. Couple that with high expectations from Connor Timmins, Boris Katchouk and Morgan Frost among others and you have another potential powerhouse.
London Knights: They’ll have their share of dynamic players like Cliff Pu and Victor Mete while Olli Juolevi would add a lot if he doesn’t stick with the Vancouver Canucks. Goaltending is a concern right now, but there’s time to work it out.
Kitchener Rangers: If Adam Mascherin recovers from off-season shoulder surgery in good time, he could make a serious push to be the league’s leading scorer. The Rangers made a big trade in August for Memorial Cup champion Logan Stanley, who will step in as their top defenceman.
Windsor Spitfires: They’ll go through a lot of turnover after winning the Memorial Cup last season, but forward Gabriel Vilardi and goalie Michael DiPietro will be back to lead a younger core group. They’d get a big boost if Mikhail Sergachev is sent back from the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Guelph Storm: It’s been a couple of years at the bottom of the conference for the Storm, but a revamped roster suggests they’ve paid their dues. Look for a big year from 2018 NHL Draft prospect Ryan Merkley while Isaac Ratcliffe and Nate Scharr will be counted on more.
Erie Otters: The Otters have been in the OHL’s upper echelon for the last four years and are coming off an OHL championship season and Memorial Cup final appearance. With so much turnover, a rebuild finally appears to be in order.
Sarnia Sting: It’s hard to see the Sting managing any better than they did last year with a lot of teams in the OHL improving while the Sting remained stagnant. Still, you can count on Jordan Kyrou being a star in the league once again.
Flint Firebirds: They shot up the league standings with a great start last year en route to a surprising seventh place finish, but the nature of the top-heavy West will make it difficult to repeat.
Saginaw Spirit: They’ve been a mainstay near the bottom of the conference standings the past few years and really committed to rebuilding by trading captain Mitchell Stephens last year. That trend may continue this year.
Mississauga Steelheads: If Michael McLeod and Owen Tippett are sent back from their NHL teams, last year’s Eastern Conference champions will be a force to be reckoned with. They’ll also boast excellent goaltending led by Jake Ingham and a strong defensive core led by Nic Hague.
Oshawa Generals: They led the Eastern Conference prior to the trade deadline, when they decided to sell in an attempt to build for a Memorial Cup bid in 2018. That said, there’s plenty of assets to leverage into star talent ahead of this year’s deadline.
Peterborough Petes: Dylan Wells will be back in goal as Peterborough’s centrepiece while more emphasis will be placed on Jonathan Ang to score on a more consistent basis. Nikita Korotselev is likely to return and give the Petes a boost offensively.
Hamilton Bulldogs: They don’t have the type of dynamic talents the aforementioned teams do, but there’s still a lot of NHL prospects like Will Bitten, Matt Strome and Mackenzie Entwistle to help them finish in the top half of the East.
Niagara IceDogs: 2018 NHL Draft prospect Akil Thomas is a shining star on this team that’s on the rise. For now, Johnny Corneil and Ben Jones are among those who will be providing veteran leadership while workhorse Stephen Dhillon will give them strength in goal.
Ottawa 67’s: They’re rich in young talent, particularly on the blue line with four high-end 2000-born defencemen in the fold, but their time hasn’t come yet. Austen Keating headlines a promising forward group, but as it stands, their goaltending is questionable.
Barrie Colts: Their three Russian forwards – Andrei Svechnikov, Alexei Lipanov and Kirill Nizhnikov – will be watched with great interest, but it’s too soon for the Colts to make a serious impact in the league seeing as they’re coming off a last place overall finish.
Kingston Frontenacs: Last year was bizarre as the Frontenacs managed to finish fourth in the east despite scoring the least amount of goals in the league. Even though star forward Jason Robertson and goalie Jeremy Helvig are expected to be back, we don’t see that run striking twice.
Sudbury Wolves: They were able to move past two years of disappointment en route to a respectable sixth place finish in the East last season, but a number of players such as Owen Lalonde have requested trades out of the Nickel City, which is concerning.
North Bay Battalion: Usually, Stan Butler teams have been able to overcome a lack of star power, but they finished ninth last season and are once again lacking in the talent department. It may take another year to get back on track.Back to Top
1) ISS Hockey Releases May Top 31 Rankings for 2018 NHL Draft
2) 2018 RBC Cup Kicks Off in Chilliwack
3) Ontario Hockey Association Announces 2017-18 Prospects
4) Western Canada Cup No More
5) Meet Matthew Savoie, the NAX Forward Taking the CSSHL by Storm